Ask Donald Glover (not to be confused with the actor Danny Glover, which apparently happens a lot) about how hard it is to get rid of the rap bug. Since graduating from New York University in 2006, the Atlanta native has enjoyed a three-season stint as a writer for 30 Rock, been an integral part of the sketch group Derrick Comedy, which boasts several viral video sensations including "Bro Rape," and plays a former high-school quarterback, Troy Barnes, on NBC's hit sitcom, Community. Even with all his success, Glover has pursued a music career that began when he dropped his first mixtape in 2002, The Younger I Get. Since then, Glover—who raps under the moniker Childish Gambino—has steadily been producing a mesh of hip-hop and electro-influenced beats and verses that honestly reflect a life that has become cluttered with the demands that come with being a successful actor and comedian. It doesn't seem like the strain on his planner will be decreasing anytime soon as his latest release, CULDESAC, has 40,000 downloads since its early July release. Complex was able to snag a few minutes with Glover to talk about the parallels between Donald Glover and Childish Gambino, relationships, and his "white-boy" persona.
LISTEN: Donald Glover Songs You Should Know:
Donald Glover "Got This Money"
Donald Glover "The Last"
Donald Glover "So Fly"
Donald Glover "I Be On That"
Donald Glover "You Know Me"
Interview by Chad Roberts
Complex: How did you get into comedy?
Donald Glover: I guess in college and high school people were just like, "Oh, you're a funny dude," and I started writing. I just thought it would be a fun thing to do. I wrote a skit called "Black Peter Pan" my first year of college. I've always been into the Looney Tunes and the Muppets, so that was the beginning of it."
Complex: How did you transition from writing for 30 Rock to acting?"
Donald Glover: It wasn't that hard; it was like a sketch. I guess I'd already been acting, because a sketch is like writing your own bit.
Complex: You started a Twitter campaign to try and get the role of Peter Parker in the new Spider-Man. Whose idea was that?
Donald Glover: It was something somebody suggested to me. They were like, "That would be dope" and then on Twitter I was like, Oh, yeah somebody should make that happen. People went off on it. I was flattered that people wanted that to happen. [Laughs.] It was more tongue in cheek, joking with people, but then they said I would do a good job. That gave me a lot of confidence as far as people trusting me with something as awesome as Spider-Man. [Laughs.]
Complex: Given your acting career as well as doing comedy, where do you find the time for music?
Donald Glover: The music is a release valve for me, because in comedy you're not really allowed to put yourself into it. People aren't there to hear your sad stories or how you feel. [Laughs.] Nobody wants to hear about that stuff. So, all the troubles that I've been going through, whether I felt alone or something like that, I would write a song. I guess I've been doing music for a little bit, but it's always been a huge part of my life. So, yeah, I have to make time for it. It's the only time I feel like I can release everything and not worry about what people think. I feel like the album is weird in a lot of ways. I didn't feel like everybody would be biggin' this up, because "So Fly" was a song I was scared about making, but I felt that was in my heart and I had to get it out. Thank God people like it.
Complex: So, because you find music to be therapeutic, did that influence some of your songs?
Donald Glover: Yeah, it really helps me. I feel like I am going through a really strange time now, things are getting crazy. It's good, but it's scary. Usually when I get scared I make jokes, which is why some of the lighter tracks would have a lot more punch lines and jokes, but that's how I act when I'm scared or angry. I felt that I couldn't use that crutch all the time, I just have to go about it head-on and talk about it.
Complex: In a lot of your music you don't talk much about your music or acting, it's more about the poetry and how you're feeling. What's the decision behind that?
Donald Glover: People want to know you. It is kind of like Jay-Z's [line], "You want my old shit, buy my old album." [Laughs.] You want my comedy, watch Derrick Comedy and stuff like that. That's another part of me. I'm not ashamed of it but don't look for that here. That's something else. In the last track, I talk about how I go by Childish Gambino because I know that Donald Glover is synonymous with acting, comedy, doing stand-up, and writing.
Complex: You have about seven nicknames including Cheezy, Bambino X, Bam-B, Sir Durton Cloud 9, and Ms. Long-Lady Stanhope. How did they all come about?
Donald Glover: [Laughs]. They were all in college when I was making different types of music and experimenting with all these different types of beats. I was doing jungle, dubstep, and then I realized it was too much so I had to consolidate. I don't even use them anymore. I just use Childish Gambino. When I DJ I go by mcDJ but that doesn't mean anything at all. Childish Gambino, that's basically the heart. Childish Gambino is like my Batman cape. It's what I wear when I have to be as fearless as I want.
Complex: What influences your production?
Donald Glover: Well, I listened to a lot of indie music. I feel like a lot rap heads don't really listen to a whole bunch of music and are closing themselves off. People feel that if you like T.I. then you won't like Animal Collective or if you like Jeezy you'd probably hate Lykke Li, and I don't think that's the case. Hip-hop is the most eclectic type of music ever, because you can stay up on anything. If the beat is tight, the beat is tight. I'm from Atlanta, so I love Outkast. I listened to a lot of their stuff when I was younger. I listened to the Wu-Tang album. I listen to "All That I Got Is You" by Ghostface like a billion times. I remember being a kid and hearing that and being like, "Oh shit, that's like me." [Laughs.]. My cousin and I used to sleep in the same bed. [Laughs.] It was the first time I ever felt something. I listen to Kanye of course. I feel like Kanye paved the way for people like Drake, Wiz Khalifa, and rappers who rap about their life. Not every rapper is from the streets. Jay-Z's story is not my story and I say that in the album. I love Jay-Z, but I can't tell that story.
Complex: How do you deal with critics discrediting your musical talent because you're a comedian?
Donald Glover: People are going to see me how they want to see me. I really try to relay that part of my story. If you listen to the album, it's like people have been saying it since day one: "You got be this—rappers don't rap about Tiny Fey? [Laughs.] I'm like, I have to do that, that's the truth. You know when people come down on me, I just take it and say that's part of my story. If you listen to the album, there's all this stuff like people saying, "You can't do this," "Oh you listen to this, you're like a 'white kid'," "You must be an Oreo," or "What kind of sneakers are those, those pants are too tight." All different types of people come down on me, but that's part of my story. I'm different. Not everybody is going to be down with that.
Complex: Are there any other producers that you work with or do you produce all your own music?
Donald Glover: On the mixtapes and the three other albums I made, I produced everything. This album I made all of the beats and then I produced it, but some of the beats I didn't feel they were where they could be. So, I brought them to a friend of mine who does the music on Community. He went through [all the tracks] and he'd be like, "I think that one is good" or "This one needs more of this." I think the only two we made from scratch were "I Got This Money" and "Hero." We sat down and he gave me the melody and put together the forms and strings. I just gave him melodies and he knew what I meant and he translated it into music. I made all the beats, but he made them music. He really brought them to the next level. And some of them I made like a year and a half ago, and "Fuck it All" I made like two days ago. It really ranges.
Complex: Do you think music is your next full-time career choice?
Donald Glover: I don't ever look at any other thing that I do as full-time—or I look at all of them as full-time. [Laughs.] People always ask how do I find time to do all of that; I see them all as one thing. I've definitely taken time out to finish this album. I've had many relationships just fall apart because I don't sleep, or I don't meet up with them because I start to forget things when I am in the studio or writing. I don't know if it's a good thing. It definitely takes over the largest part of my life. It takes up more time than a girlfriend...and it's more expensive.